Jose Ramirez’s contract keeps him under the Indians’ control through the 2023 season, but Cleveland “would love to” work out another extension with the star third baseman, according to ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan. To date, Ramirez “has resisted” the team’s overtures.
It isn’t exactly unusual that a club would have interest in keeping its star player, and it could be that Cleveland is simply doing its due diligence in checking to see if Ramirez would be willing to re-up for an even long-term commitment. Still, such a move is noteworthy in the Tribe’s case given how the team has been focusing on moving salaries in recent years, and that strategy has only intensified in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Since August, the team has traded Mike Clevinger, Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor, declined to pick up Carlos Santana’s $17.5MM option for 2021, and put star closer Brad Hand on waivers last October just to try and avoid a $1MM buyout of Hand’s $10MM club option.
Dating back to John Hart’s days as the Indians’ GM, the club’s strategy for extensions has followed a pattern. The Tribe looks to sign promising younger players to long-term deals early in their career, so Cleveland can lengthen its team control over at least a year or two (whether on guaranteed years or club options) beyond a player’s arbitration-eligible seasons. If that young player indeed ends up blossoming into a star, the Tribe ends up with a bargain through the player’s prime years, and then the player usually ends up either traded or departing in free agency once their team control draws to a close.
While Cleveland has signed a few notable names (i.e. C.C. Sabathia, Travis Hafner, and more recently, Carrasco) to secondary extensions after those initial deals, it would be a significantly bigger financial decision to ink Ramirez to another contract given how he has so firmly established himself as one of the game’s top players. Since the start of the 2016 season, Ramirez has hit .290/.366/.529 with 119 home runs in 2757 plate appearances, and only three players (Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Anthony Rendon) have amassed more fWAR than Ramirez’s 26.2 figure over that five-year stretch. Ramirez has three top-3 finishes in AL MVP voting within the last four seasons, finishing second to Jose Abreu in 2020.
Prior to the 2017 season, Ramirez signed a five-year extension worth $26MM in guaranteed money. He is entering the final guaranteed year of that deal now, though the Tribe has both a $11MM club option ($2MM buyout) on Ramirez for 2022 and a $13MM club option (with no buyout) for the 2023 season. Ramirez turned 28 last September, so assuming Cleveland picks up both options, Ramirez wouldn’t reach free agency until his age-31 season.
With all of the Tribe’s cost-cutting over the winter, there was speculation that Ramirez could also be moved, though Cleveland isn’t yet interested in a full rebuild, adding the likes of Eddie Rosario and Cesar Hernandez to one-year contracts to make another run at a postseason berth. However, the Indians have less than $53MM on the books for the 2021 payroll, and Cleveland doesn’t have a single player officially under contract beyond the 2021 season. Unless the team does go into complete rebuild mode, some of that open payroll space is surely earmarked for future extensions of its next wave of young talent — chief among them Cy Young Award winner Shane Bieber, though as of last month, the two sides had yet to begin negotiations.
While owner Paul Dolan and Cleveland’s front office have often discussed how a smaller-market team shouldn’t devote much of its payroll to a single player, there is theoretically enough payroll room available to pay Ramirez a superstar-level salary ($30MM+ in average annual value). The Indians reportedly offered Lindor a $200MM extension prior to the 2020 season, and while that offer came before the pandemic changed everything, it indicates that the team is willing to make a big splash to retain a star.